Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Plains of Rust

The Commonwealth is a powerful faction, centred around Nexus, the Machine World:
Image from Didier Graffet. His art is great and you should really check it out.
In ages past, this otherwise-unprepossessing stretch of steppe was the site of a titanic battle between the clockwork armies of two long-forgotten artificer-kings. The marks of the battle are still scattered everywhere: grass grows across the rusting limbs of fallen metal giants, and when travellers dig their wells at night they sometimes uncover whole trenches packed with fallen clockwork soldiers, with broken swords still clutched in their corroded hands or ancient axe-blades buried deep in one another's metal guts. Curious clockworkers from far-off cities sometimes organise expeditions out to the plains, in the hope of unearthing some wondrous relic of the ancient world. But such expeditions must work with stealth and care: the inhabitants of the plains regard all such artefacts as theirs by ancestral right, and they deal harshly with suspected looters.

The people of the plains are nomads, like all the inhabitants of the steppe. Probably their ancestors rode horses, but since arriving on the Plains of Rust, they have adopted new mounts: refurbished clockwork war machines. Now, whole families travel in ramshackle shacks built onto the shoulders of stumbling metal soldiers; distinguished warriors strap saddles onto the backs of clockwork swordsmen and ride them into battle, while inexperienced youths, lacking the skills to maintain such complex mounts, travel across the steppe on seats strapped to pairs of ancient bronze legs, salvaged from fallen automata whose upper bodies were too badly damaged to be of use. They are adept at pressing constructs into purposes very different from those for which they were originally intended, turning the shattered clockwork monsters of earlier ages into perfectly serviceable beasts of burden. Unsentimental in the extreme, they simply strip out any component they cannot repair or maintain: they will take some filigree automaton, a miracle of ancient craftsmanship, and rip out every part of its delicate mechanisms and wondrous clockwork brains except for those they require to set it in motion as the mount for a high-status child. They are also a thrifty and practical people, however, and such stripped components are never simply thrown away; instead they are stored in hidden caches, waiting for the day when they might be needed to repair some new machinery excavated from the sandy earth.

The inhabitants of the Plains of Rust prize two qualities above all others: skill in clockworking, and an excellent sense of balance. Clockworking skill is, of course, required to repair and maintain the automata upon which they ride; but balance is crucial too, for many of their clockwork mounts are weird, damaged, asymmetrical things, which go lurching across the plains in a most ungainly manner. Daring youths often compete to see who can best ride these mounts, overwinding them until they run in a mad, lopsided, zigzag sprint and then leaping up onto their uneven metal shoulders, striving to be the last to lose their balance. The young, old, and infirm are held in place with safety netting. None of them ever seem to suffer from motion sickness.

Like other steppe peoples, the Rust Clans live by herding and raiding. What they desire most is always coal; when necessary their clockwork mounts can be powered by burning charcoal, or wound manually by the patient labour of men or beasts, but it is coal they need in order to keep their automata running during their great annual migrations between their summer and winter pastures. Their greatest treasure, which is also their greatest stronghold, is a half-functional God Soldier right in the middle of the plains; great sections of this immense metal giant have long since been emptied out to serve as living spaces, and the vast machineries of its clockwork brain are far beyond the comprehension of its current residents, but they have repaired one of its great arm-cannons and both of its tank-track 'legs'. In theory it could be made to move again, sent trundling across the plains as it did in ages past, its one remaining arm raining down death for miles around; but in practice, the quantities of coal that would be required to set it in motion are so enormous that it is never likely to be more than a stationary threat. Unless, of course, some great Khan were to arise upon the Plains of Rust, unifying the Rust Clans and seizing enough coal mines that the God Soldier could be made to awaken once more...

Game Rules: Treat Rust Clan characters as Travellers, except that they don't get a +2 FORT save bonus or any knowledge of herbal remedies. Instead, they get a flat +2 bonus to their Tech rating.

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